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Ed Balls bust up with the BBC…

By Angela Harbutt
December 10th, 2009 at 7:46 am | 7 Comments | Posted in UK Politics

I am not sure whether Ed Balls got out of bed the wrong side yesterday morning, was just a bit “interviewed out”, or whether he was…as it sounded…revealing his true colours – a bully who knows the cause is lost and hopes that by throwing his weight about on BBC radio,  he can somehow influence media reporting.

I caught the most bizarre interview about the PBR late yesterday afternoon. And as interesting as any analysis of the PBR might be…I think this one interview says more about the Labour party and its ministers than any learned tome on the substance of the chancellors plans ever could…

You see what I heard was a Government minister come as close as I have heard in a very long time to threatening , albeit obliquely, the BBC. 

And…. full marks to Peter Allen (BBC Radio Five Live Drive) for standing up to him. There will always be a difficulty for any modern state broadcaster (even in a so-called free society) in “taking on” the ruling powers. And,  noting my many previous criticisms of the BBC,  I have to say the BBC did that and did it well –

despite immense provocation… including several pronouncements  from Ed Balls (to a BBC journalist) as to how he (the state broadcaster) and his employers should behave.

Unsurprisingly…. Peter Allen won outright. No question. Bullying may work elsewhere – and may have worked in the past – but frankly…..Alistair Campbell he aint.  And if there really is anyone in control of the Labour Party (ha!) …they will take Bully Boy Balls to one side and tell him just how monumentally he f*cked up yesterday.

Editors notes. The full interview was approx 2 minutes longer than shown here. I have edited out the ministers statements about how wonderful the Labour party has been over the last decade and in particular how it has saved the country over the last 18 months. I think you have heard it all before … but if you want to hear the whole interview (including all of Ed Balls contributions) then please go to  BBC iplayer  here where you can listen to all of the interview for yourself…it was broadcast approx 18.08 (i.e. 2hrs 8mins into broadcast).

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I am trying very hard not to be a “climate change denier”

By Angela Harbutt
December 6th, 2009 at 8:54 pm | 13 Comments | Posted in UK Politics

…..a “climate change sceptic” or as Mr Miliband dubbed those of a different opinion to himself last week  – a “climate change saboteur”  …… but boy they are not making it easy for me.

For I find myself increasingly wondering – just how much money is there in this for those who are leading the climate change vanguard? How much kudos, fame and bandwaggoning is tied up in this particular cause? The scientists taking their research funds; the energy companies taking their subsidies; the politicians taking centre stage with their great moral crusade on which they pontificate, and use to terrify us into submission.

Only today The Sunday Telegraph reports that professor Phil Jones – who until recently led the Climate research Unit (CRU) at University of East Anglia -has so far received £13million+ in climate research funding no less. That’s 13million good reasons to big-up any issue.

It has not helped the climate change cause that the very same unit in receipt of the £13million is also at the centre of the investigation into doctored figures. Emails (obtained by hackers it seems) from Prof Jones say, amongst other things, I’ve just completed Mike’s NATURE trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years and from 1961 for Keith’s to hide the decline”. Well…if you will incentivise people to go down a particular path, don’t be surprised if they overstep the mark.

And let’s not forget the holier-than-thou, great-and-the-good descending on Copenhagen. 15000 delegates are seemingly required to discuss pie-in-the-sky “targets” that everyone seems to agree already will not result in any binding deal. And even if they do agree binding targets – these dont appear to be modest, sensible ones, over, say, the life of most parliaments (e.g. 3 or 4 years) that today’s politicians will be answerable to. Why not cancel the thing and save the many thousands of tonnes of carbon the conference seems set to cost. Because it will have a BIG carbon footprint. Last heard, some 1200 limo’s will be used to ferry these hand-wringers around and some 140 extra private jets will use Copenhagen’s airport.  That’s a lot of hot air, in every sense of the word.

Back in boggy Britain, we, the little people, are berated over OUR energy use. We are bombarded with sinister Government adverts telling us to use our cars 5 miles less per week, use public transport wherever we can – no matter how difficult/poor/filthy/cramped etc that is- switch off our lights, fly less, recycle more, obey or be doomed. Politcians on the other hand swish about in gaz guzzlers, attended by dozens of “advisors” along for the jolly, making big speeches feeling very self important . What bit of irony don’t they get?

We do irony well in the UK. We also do dissent rather well too. Echoing the results of  The Times survey a couple of weeks ago, an ICM survey for The Sunday Telegraph published today, shows that  nearly 50% of voters think there is no proof that mankind is causing global warming. Gordon Brown described such people as “flat earthers” . There’s clearly an awful lot of them about. And his response to the ICM survey was to say that he’s  convinced by the scientific evidence (well thats ok then) and that his government will be making the case that the threat of climate change is real. Hmmmm…..We have seen the effects of dodgy dossiers from this Government before. Let’s hope that the Government has not got another one in its briefcase this time.

All I really want for Christmas is an open honest debate on this issue – preferably amongst scientists – butI will take what I can get. No doubt inspired by the Daily Politics show last week, just such a debate appeared on BBC’s Politics Show lunchtime today between Lord Lawson and Ed Miliband. Government may be reduced to name-calling. Research units may manipulate the data and seek to prevent FOI requests for the raw data. But it seems to me that a healthy debate concerning the science and the economics of climate change is coming out at last. That has to be good news for all sides of the debate because it’s good for democracy.And because its more likely to result in the right policies being implemented.

And no Ed Miliband I do not think it “irresponsible” to query the science of climate change. As Lord Lawson put it so magnificently” What I think is profoundly irresponsible is to say that dissent should not be tolerated. That honest, rational, reasoned debate is unacceptable. That is wrong on any issue”

You can catch the Nigel Lawson v Ed Miliband debate at the top of the post – or catch the full Politics Show programme on BBC iplayer by clicking here.

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MPs to go clubbing with students as “research”

By Julian Harris
December 4th, 2009 at 1:45 pm | 1 Comment | Posted in UK Politics

nightclubThe BBC reports that a troupe of MPs, led by the esteemed moral cruisader Keith Vaz, will be making their way to nightclubs in order to:

look at what goes on during “student nights”

The MPs are from the Commons committee on home affairs [or perhaps Drunken Kids Snogging on the Dancefloor] and are going to check out the “latest cocaine-detecting technology”, having spent some time schmoozing with people who campaign against the right to decide what you consume or don’t consume with your own body.

Labour MP Gwyn Prosser said: “What struck me was that the young people seemed very happy to go through the scanners and that they wanted a night free of the problems you get with drugs.”

This is terribly good news for the government, who can use Prosser’s evidence to put more scanners in schools and colleges, as well as nightclubs, pubs, and lots of other “public” places that those young people frequent. One might think that some of the young people didn’t want a drug-free night–otherwise there’d be no demand for drug-pushers. But never mind about that, clearly this is the kind of neo-liberal madness that doesn’t concern Prosser’s lot.

Incidentally, the Lib Dem MPs on this committee are Tom Brake and Bob Russell.  Their thoughts on this little excursion are as yet unknown.

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Frenchman bang on over African liberalisation

By Timothy Cox
December 3rd, 2009 at 5:04 pm | Comments Off on Frenchman bang on over African liberalisation | Posted in Economics

truckWhile the Doha round of trade agreements sinks even deeper into a quagmire of bureaucratic hurdles and empty promises, Emmanuel Martin hits the nail right on the head in an article for Kenyan ‘paper Business Daily.

He correctly states that Africans have the opportunity to free themselves from trading constraints in spite of the stalled World Trade Organization (WTO)  talks.

The WTO’s goal of reducing the import tariffs faced by developing nation exporters may be admirable, but the sad reality is that a disproportionate amount of the barriers to trade are actually imposed by African governments on other Africans.

When a World Bank study looked at trade barriers in 75 countries, they found that the countries ranked as “below average” in terms of free trade could boost trade by $377 billion–just by liberalising “half way to average”.

Imagine the effect on trade and alleviating poverty if they fully liberalised.

And yet within Africa trade is stifled by extortionate admin fees for construction permits and registering business, debilitating delays at border crossings and corrupt officials skimming money.  In combination, this makes the costs of doing business in Africa the highest in the world.

Indeed, according to the World Bank Doing Business report, even the warzones of Iraq and Afghanistan offer a comparative haven for business compared with many African nations. It should therefore come as little surprise that the continent has the lowest levels of intra-regional trade in the world: under 10 per cent of exports are destined for other African nations.

Until these issues are addressed there is little hope for Africa’s millions of potential entrepreneurs, even if the Doha talks do come to an expedient conclusion–which, by the way, they won’t.

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CHARLES DE SECONDAT, BARON DE MONTESQUIEU (1689-1755) THE SPIRIT OF THE LAWS (1748)

By Barry Stocker
December 3rd, 2009 at 12:24 pm | 1 Comment | Posted in Uncategorized

montesquieuMontesquieu was a provincial French judge who turned to writing literature and history.  His biggest and most influential book is The Spirit of the Laws.   Montesquieu was part of the French Enlightenment movement, contributing to the Encyclopaedia  which was the collaborative achievement of the thinkers of French Enlightenment.

Montesquieu used a vision of universal laws of nature as the basis for laws of history.  In that conception of history he looked at the relations between geographical conditions, mores (manners and customs), social conditions, laws and political institutions.  He offered a model for understanding relations between physical, social and legal conditions and how these develop over time.  This model is one of the great sources of sociological and historical thought, as well as political theory.

His political theory looks to classical models in ancient Greek and Roman thought, but establishes a much greater concern with the individual, and the equality of all humans, than the limited commercial and individualist culture of ancient societies permitted.  Montesquieu himself comments on the civilising effects of trade, bringing peaceful communication and understanding between humans, and was an early opponent of slavery.

There is a tension with Montesquieu’s adherence to ancient political thought, which tended to refer to the virtue of poverty and the corrupting effects of wealth on the political system.  At least some of the time, Montesquieu offers an ideal of a republic based on equality in poverty, where individuals obey law through voluntary custom rather than through coercion.  However, we can extract important stimulants to liberal thought  from this aspect of Montesquieu.  That wealth leads people to corrupt the political system, in order to protect their accumulation of wealth from the consequences of open markets, is an issue addressed by Adam Smith and market liberals ever since.  Montesquieu’s ideal of law without coercion is an ideal for many classical liberals and libertarians, though it also leaves the question of how non-coercion is possible in societies where control of wealth has a fundamental importance that it cannot have in a subsistence economy.

The overall thrust of Montesquieu’s argument is that pure egalitarianism is not relevant any more, and was not even relevant in the ancient societies which are most familiar.  The question is what kind of society will be morally preferable given that the pursuit of wealth is a major preoccupation, and given that the increase in wealth promotes general advances in humanity, behaviour, morality and knowledge.

He argued that state persecution and expulsion of  minorities was destructive to wealth, as well as to human morality.  Government has to be for all the people of a nation.  Montesquieu explains the best forms of government with reference to Aristotle’s notions of moderate, or law governed, states.  Montesquieu offers his own view of how different kinds of moderate state rest on different principles in customs, which are expressed in the laws.

The democratic republic rests on the virtue of the people,  the aristocratic republic rests on moderation of the aristocracy, the monarchy rests on honour amongst the highest in the state.  By honour, Montesquieu means a mixture of old aristocratic pride in status and land, and bourgeois commercial pride in social respect and more mobile forms of wealth.  His view of honour is a way of presenting a society based on peaceful competition for goods, in a harmony not designed by any one individual.

The negative political model in Montesquieu is despotism, a government without moderation, that is without law restricting the state.  The basic goal for Montesquieu is a state in which law is independent of government, and particularly in larger states, government is further limited by localised forms of power.  Montesquieu’s political approach to the world he lived in goes into two directions.  He consigns republican states to antiquity, or decaying states of his time, such as Venice.  He also sees republicanism in the English parliamentary monarchy of his time, where he was impressed by the separation between the legislative body and monarchy; and in the highly autonomous self-governing cities and communities of the Netherlands, Germany and Switzerland.  The general impression is that he sees monarchy as inevitable in large modern states, but wishes to see as much republicanism as possible as part of a monarchy, or in confederations of small states.

This modern republicanism incorporates commercial freedom, the rule of law, the decentralisation of power, and separation between legislative and governmental power, in a model Montesquieu hopes will promote the concern of citizens for the public good.  This left a particularly strong mark in the new American Republic of the late 18th Century, whose founders were very familiar with Montesquieu; and in the more liberal aspects of the French Revolution.

It must be said that Montesquieu’s references to antique egalitarian republicanism were also taken up by the perpetrators of the Jacobin Terror.  However, their methods were clearly in contradiction with Montesquieu’s passion for moderation in law and in punishing crime.  Crime should only be punished with minimum force, and with regard to the deterrent force of a likely punishment rather than irregular but extremely cruel punishment.  This is one of the great themes of The Spirit of the Laws: law and government should be moderate and restrained in all respects, because cruelty and unlimited power are always wrong.